Montana's outdoor gear scene is finally flowering

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If I had a Hammer

Hammer Bars • $2.50 each


Whitefish-based Hammer Nutrition, an early pioneer in the state's outdoor-business boomlet, set up shop in 1995 after founder Brian Frank, another California outdoorsman, moved to Montana seeking a better place to raise his family. The expanding company now has 35 employees creating all-natural fuel and supplements for endurance athletes, including its own line of energy bars.

You'll be excused for asking why. There are already dizzying varieties of pre-packaged energy bars on the market, and a lot of them are pretty darn good. But the power-packed, nutrient-rich Hammer Bar truly stands apart. Simultaneously satisfying the needs of both performance junkies and natural-food diehards, Hammer builds every bar on a foundation of nut butter, dates, agave nectar and brown rice protein. In case that doesn't sound healthy enough for you, Hammer then adds a bunch of sprouted flax and quinoa, spirulina and barley grass juice. Everything's organic, and most ingredients are raw foods: Short of adding ground unicorn horn powder, you couldn't do much to make them healthier.

The endurance crowd, Hammer's main market, is happy because the bars are easy to digest while exercising, have a high amount of alkalizing protein to help reduce muscle soreness, and contain no refined sugars, so there's no energy spike and crash. In short, these bars stick to your ribs. They also get more than a third of their calories from fat, which might surprise some people. But they're what Hammer calls "healthy fats," otherwise known as essential fatty acids, which improve endurance and contain a host of important nutrients.

What's better, the bars actually taste good. Available in three flavors—Almond Raisin, Chocolate Chip, and Cashew Coconut Chocolate Chip—they're great on the trail, on the bike, or even when you're desk jockeying and need a calorie infusion.

And since they don't get teeth-shatteringly hard in the cold, they're also a good choice for winter sports. Each bar contains 220-230 calories, depending on flavor, and you can find them at bike and outdoor shops, natural food stores or at Hammer's website.

Besides bars, Hammer offers an array of electrolyte capsules, performance drinks and nutritional supplements. Of particular note, the company sells Heed, a natural and higher-tech version of Gatorade; Recoverite, a drink mix that accelerates recovery after hard workouts by replenishing depleted muscle glycogen; and Hammer Gel, a tasty carbohydrate gel that delivers quick energy in a variety of flavors, including a huckleberry version made with real huckleberries. Now that's endurance fuel, Montana-style.

Boyz in the hoodie

Beartooth Merino Wool Hoodie

$110 • www.backpackinglight.com

After being banished to the outdoor gear wilderness by the shimmering allure of synthetic fabrics for the last few decades, wool has made a triumphant comeback in explorers' wardrobes. The reasons are many. Like synthetics, wool breathes well and insulates when wet, but it also offers a greater comfort range, delivering more warmth for its weight. Unlike petroleum-based synthetics, it's also a renewable resource (thanks, sheep!). Lastly, and in sharp contrast to synthetic fabrics that seem to capture and magically amplify body odor, wool's inherent anti-microbial properties keep it amazingly stink-free, even after several days of use. The value of this for activities like backpacking cannot be overstated, especially by your hiking partners.

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The ultralight gurus over at Bozeman-based Backpacking Light know a thing or two about functional garments, which is why they created the Beartooth Merino Wool Hoodie. Ryan Jordan and Alan Davis, both outdoor-loving engineers, launched the Web site Backpacking Light in 2001 to give intensely technical reviews of lightweight backpacking products, and soon became some of the foremost authorities on lightweight gear and techniques. Their site also sells 150 products, 70 of them carrying the Backpacking Light brand, including titanium cookware, 3-ounce fly rods and clothes.

The wool hoodie is Backpacking Light's top-selling clothing item and it's full of smart features to lighten your load. Thumb loops and a balaclava-style hood mean you can leave the gloves and hat at home in midsummer, or get by with lighter ones in shoulder seasons. The partial zipper vents well on warm days and, combined with the hood, offers excellent temperature regulation. For minimalists, this 8-ounce shirt combined with a light shell might be all you need for lightweight summer trips. It's also a fine base layer in colder temps.

As you would expect for a $110 shirt, overall quality is high, with stout seams and edging, and ultra-smooth, itch-free 18.5-micron wool. It's a technical top and looks it—this is not a piece you wear to look dapper around town—but for the savvy backcountry enthusiast, it might just be the perfect shirt.

Note: besides the dizzyingly informative website, Backpacking Light also operates a wilderness trekking school with multi-day courses on ultralight backpacking techniques.

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